Friday, December 28, 2012

Solar maximum...did I miss something?

Click to enlarge
With some time on my hands today, I opened up my observatory at high noon to take a look at the Sun and see what was up.  As anyone who follows the Sun is aware, we are well along in solar cycle 24 and despite being somewhere near Solar maximum, things have been generally calm.  Sure there has been the occasional strong flare, and every now and again we have been treated to several active regions at once.  Overall, however, the Sun is relatively quiet.  It was no surprise then that there were very few spots today that were visible in white light.  There are a couple active regions that have rotated into view on the east limb, as well as a region departing to the west.  For the most part though, the solar disc remains featureless in white light.  At left is a sketch that I made at 12:40 PM local time (1940 UT) and I am embarrassed to say it is the first sketch I have made since the Annular Eclipse in May!

Thinking about the relative calm of Solar Cycle 24, I decided to visit and see what the sunspot number was for today (78, in case you were wondering).  Interestingly they had a story and graph from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center addressing exactly how calm (in relative terms) this cycle has been as well as when maximum is predicted to occur.  Here is the chart they had reproduced:

Updated in early December, the above chart shows you the actual number of observed spots from January of 2000, through November of this year.  With the red line identifying the predicted sunspot values for the remainder of this cycle, it is curious to see that we are well below the line of even what was predicted to be a weak cycle.  And while the cycle certainly progressed slowly, has noted that we may already be past the maximum for this cycle!  I agree, as it appears to me that the actual observation curve (the blue line) has begun to taper down.  There are historical cycles that have had double peaks, so what happens over the next year will be interesting.  If you care to see the cycle that was predicted (in May of 2009) click on the graph at right.  You can see that the maximum was predicted to occur in mid-2013.

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